Rental Car Firms Seek More GPS Use to Stop Thefts

Companies protest California law that prevents them from tracking their customers until the vehicle has been missing for at least five days.

The use of GPS to track stolen vehicles is at the center of a debate between car rental companies and privacy advocates in California, the Washington Post reports. Most rental cars are equipped with navigation and GPS technology. Unlike automakers that can begin tracking their customer’s movements as soon as they drive off the lot, California law bars rental companies from tracking their customer’s location until the vehicle has been missing at least five days past its return date. Some car rental companies want to decrease the number of days significantly, making it possible to track the movements of customers who failed to return vehicles on time. Privacy advocates worry that allowing companies to track customers could open the door to privacy abuses, such as collecting and selling valuable consumer data.

Rental company owners like Sharky Laguana say the law has encouraged a rash of thefts over the past few years as car thieves realize they can “rent” a vehicle with a five-day head start on police. Within hours, a fairly new car can end up in a chop shop across town or be en route to a nearby port to be shipped elsewhere in the world, police say. Laguana said his vans have ended up in Chad and Saudi Arabia. State law treats missing rental vehicles as a “contractual dispute” between rental companies and customers. “It is ironic in this day and age — with how much access to how much information that everyone else has — that we aren’t able to access that data, even when you’re in breach of a rental contract,” Laguana said. “Do we allow you to stay in a hotel room for five days before we kick you out?”